The Boglands

©2018 by Son M.

   CHAPTER ONE

PIG

Dog is waiting for me. I can’t see his face, but I know under the mask he’s frowning.

His stance is exhausted, leaning heavily on the bat he’s shoved deep into the mud. The rain makes it slippery and yet, he remains perfectly balanced. His shirt is soaked through, buttons undone and exposing himself to the cold air and I can see the thick ink curling on his skin.

I do my best to straighten my back, keep my head held high, as I approach.

Dog doesn’t say anything, the black painted eyes of the mask cold. My face heats up under my own.

“Let’s go,” I whisper, and despite my pose, I hear my voice tremble slightly.

There’s a heavy sigh, and Dog is removing the bat from its place in the dirt. His knuckles are bruised bright and up this close I can see the cuts around his neck from the wire lock where he was stuck moments ago.

“Want me to do anything about—" he pauses for a moment, voice muffled. He gestures to the body slowly sinking into the mud between us. “About this?”

I shake my head. “Bunny and Rat can take care of it tomorrow.”

Dog doesn’t reply to that and turns on his heel. The bat swings heavy at his side as I follow his steps, tracing them. One set of tracks in, one set out.

“Hey, Lu—, Dog?” I ask, hopeful. The cold has me shivering.

Dog doesn’t say anything, but extends his free hands towards me, allowing me to wrap my fingers around them. Palm to palm, and his hand is colder than the dead, but I much prefer it. I notice I’m missing a cufflink.

“Do you regret it?” He asks, the closer we get to the car. Bunny is in the driver’s seat, mask off. He’s got a hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth and his phone in his hands. He’s always been obsessed with mobile games, even at the worst of times. Rat opted out of this mission and the car looks hollow without them.

Our hands swing heavy together between us.

“No,” I say after a moment. “What’s done is done.”

Bunny spots us and gives us one of his loose smiles. He pulls out the smoke and crushes it into the ashtray in the car. His mask is on in seconds and the car starts up. Dog opens the backseat for me, guides me in until my wet clothes make contact with cheap leather seats. He closes the door.

Bunny turns around, his large body shifting in place until he can rest his hand on the armrest. “How’d it go? Finally come to an agreement?”

I don’t get a chance to answer as Dog enters, slipping into the passenger seat and closing the door rapidly. “He’s dead.”

“What?” Bunny asks, body tensing.

I pull off my mask, lay Pig on my lap and inhale softly. “We killed him.”

“Oh,” Bunny says, turning around and putting the car into drive. “Well, we’re fucked.”

 

DOG

Rather than freeing us from our shackles, graduation came like a prison sentence.

When I walked that stage, accepted my diploma and waved towards no one in the crowd, I knew my life was over. I hadn’t gotten into a single graduate school, had found no freelance work and no place to live. Up until this point, I had found solace in the dorms of Yuri University and now, I struggled to look Wyatt in the eye as I asked for a spot on his couch.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug of his large shoulders, grinning. “I’ve always wanted a roommate.”

He’s lying but we’re both too polite to address it.

I graduated YU with a Bachelors in the Arts in Literature. Which roughly translates to I really fucked myself.

The ceremony ended with our valedictorian, Victoria Addington, standing up proudly and declaiming some speech on accepting ourselves and self-worth, finding the future and sucking its dick or something. But it was beautiful, as it always is when she opens her mouth. Her father is the state senator, an ever-charming with oily palms. He’s weaseled his way into office for as long as I’ve been in this country. I’d hate her if I didn’t know her so damn well.

When it’s over, I found myself waiting at the gates in front of the park the event was held at. It was a cold Spring day, where everything just started to turn green, but the sun didn’t get the memo about keeping it warm. I somehow had lost my cap during my travel from the seats to there. Oliver was already there, their hair tied up in a messy bun as they attempt to keep their fingers warm by stuffing them into the shallow pockets of their leather jacket.

Oliver went to YU with us, Wyatt, Vickie and I, but dropped out in our sophomore year.

“Why study when I have work to do,” they said.

“You came,” I muttered as soon as I got close.

“Of course,” they say after a moment, teeth chattering away. “I should’ve worn a fucking scarf.”

 

“At least it’s over. Did you hear Vickie’s speech?”

 

“Was like a goddamn angel singing.”

 

“She’ll be pleased to hear that.”

 

“I aim to please.”

 

“Wow, Oliver! You came,” Wyatt called, jogging over to us. He had one of those lazy smiles on his face, his cap tucked firmly between his arm. His hair, bleached blond and shaved, exposed for the first time since he got the cut.

 

“Of course, I got my shift covered. Hair is looking good, dude.” Oliver leaned against the gate, shooting him a thumbs up. I mirrored the motion.

 

Wyatt’s smile only grew. “The gang’s almost together. We still heading down to Cory’s for burgers?”

 

“As is tradition,” I said, growing annoyed as the wind whips around my graduation gown. I debated throwing it in the trash on our way out.

 

“Awesome, I’m starved. Who would have thought calling out 300 names would take 3 hours?”

 

“I did,” Oliver said. “I fucking did.”

 

“Congrats. You’re always one step ahead, Oli.”

 

“Yo, Vickie,” Wyatt called, waving as she approached. Her heels clicked hard against the concrete and her platinum hair was pushed out of her face with a handful of bobby pins. Her gown is folded in her hands, her fur coat is a muted beige and the dress she had underneath cut to her mid-thigh.

 

“Aren’t your legs cold?” I asked when she joined us. Vickie rolled her eyes.

 

“I am, but I know we all are. Sorry it took so long, I couldn’t slip away without family photos.”

 

“Daddy’s Princess,” Oliver teased, bending their body back in some abstract pose that had Vickie digging her heel into the top of their sneakers. “Ouch, I was teasing, bitch.”

 

Wyatt stopped them before they could continue. “So, food time? I got the car.”

 

“Great, I took the bus here.”

 

Vickie gave me a look. “You took public transportation to your graduation.”

 

“Is this the part where you suddenly remember I’m poor as shit?”

 

She frowned. “No, asshole, you won’t let me forget it. Are you wearing a YU shirt under your gown?”

 

Oliver opened the gates so we could squeeze out, following them into the parking lot as they searched for the bright red Toyota that was Wyatt’s pride and joy.

 

“Yeah,” I said.

 

“The one that was given for free at the pep rally.”

 

“It’s comfy.”

 

“Lucy,” she muttered. “I know you own other clothes.”

 

“He’s a writer,” Wyatt called over his shoulder. “Writers are lazy assholes by nature. I saw it in a movie.”

 

“Not so much lazy as dramatic.”

 

“No,” Vickie cut in. “Just lazy for Lucy.”

 

I shrugged, opening the door to the backseat for Vickie. Oliver was already in the passenger seat looking pleased with themselves.

 

“Are we going to Cory’s again?” Vickie asked, once the car started. The radio was already set low, the quiet hum of the news acting as a background to our conversation. The story was about the bank robbery from a week ago, famous for how the robbers blew up the vault like it was the 1920s. When the story first broke it was all Oliver could talk about in the group chat, sharing updates and suspects until they were eventually caught off the side of the highway. The driver had gotten high and in their escape crashed into a large pine tree near the Children’s Museum. Oliver had promptly stopped mentioning it after that.

 

“That’s right. Cory himself promised us a free meal and I’ll be damned if I don’t take it.”

 

“He promised us a meal once we got our diplomas.”

 

Oliver whipped his head around, giving us a look. “Guess y’all are gonna have to fucking share.”

 

“You can have mine,” I said, leaning further into the seat. “I lost my appetite the moment they called my name.”

 

Wyatt glanced at me from the rearview mirror. “That was like, two hours ago.”

 

“You’re eating,” Vickie demanded, and that ended the discussion.

 

Wyatt pulled up to the restaurant in record time. The parking was packed but Wyatt turned into a small alleyway, that led to where the delivery trucks came. There, a couple of cones stood to keep our space safe. When we got close, Wyatt glanced at Oliver, who glanced at Vickie, who glanced at me.

 

“Alright,” I grunted, unbuckling the seatbelt and pushing the car door open. I walked towards the cones and kicked them out of the way, backing up as Wyatt pulled into the spot. Once the car was parked, he exited quickly to help me stack them up.

Oliver made a beeline for the back door, holding it open only for Vickie. By the time Wyatt and I shuffled in, they had found our usual table, reserved near the kitchen in a booth that sits under a hand painted mural of Cory, grinning, with a spatula in his hands.

 

It’s so routine, we even had specific seating arrangements. I’m beside Vickie, our back to the kitchen, with Wyatt and Oliver across. Cory immediately emerged from the double doors the moment he spotted us through the small window in the door.

 

“Well,” he said, strolling toward us with a tray of drinks, ready to go. “Look at my favorite group of hoodlums.”

 

“Hey,” I said. Water for Vickie, cola for Wyatt and a chocolate milkshake for Oliver. Cory got him hooked after complaining that they were just skin and bones and needed something thick, which was an endless point of amusement for the rest of us in high school.

 

“You’re looking happy to see me,” Cory smiled at me. “Coffee’s warming up, I’ll get you a fresh cup.”

 

“I fucking love you,” Oliver said, lips latched tightly to the metal straw. “A godsend. A hero.”

 

“A cook,” Cory supplied. “Alright, lemme see them.”

 

Wyatt grinned, pulling out his phone and passing it over. Cory, looking amused, swiped the screen, and enjoying pictures taken of us during our walk on stage.

 

“I’m so proud of you boys,” he turned to Vickie, “and ma’am.”

 

“Madame will do,” she replied.

 

“Of course, of course.”

 

“Listen,” Oliver began. “I don’t like all this applause over getting a lousy degree. We’re exactly where we were before the whole college thing anyway.”

 

“Sure that isn’t your self-consciousness talking?” I bit back.

 

“Fuck you,” Oliver snapped, sitting up. “Where the fuck you working, Lucy? Heard you’re taking refuge at Wyatt’s.”

 

It stung, annoyingly. I bared my teeth as Cory made a speedy retreat from what’s bound to be another crude shouting match between the two of us. “I’ll find work.”

 

“Right, with that fancy lit degree. Maybe you could spend time teaching me how to read, since I’m so fucking inept—”

 

“I never said that, asshole. You don’t have to be so fucking—”

 

“Enough.” Vickie’s voice was like a hot rod, sharp and burning as it touched skin. I grunted, falling back into the booth with a thud. Oliver looked equally pissed, reaching up to remove the elastic holding their bun together. Brown hair falls around their face as they let their cheek drop to the table. It was silent, and only the quiet sips of Wyatt’s Cola could be heard.

 

The food arrived a moment later, including a burger for Oliver. Cory set them down gently, sensing the air and taking the apologetic smile from Vickie in thanks.

 

It’s Oliver who broke first. “Sorry, I got frustrated.”

 

I sighed. “No, I’m pissy too.”

“Damn right you are.”

 

“There,” Vickie said, pushing her water aside. “All better. I’m very proud of you both.”

 

“Yeah,” Wyatt continued around bites of burger. “You’re becoming real men.”

 

“Hardy har har.” Oliver sat up, their hair curling around their face, resting under their sharp jaw. “I can feel my dick swell.”

 

“You ruined it,” Vickie groaned.

 

Oliver wiggled their eyebrows at her before casting their gaze back to me. They were waiting.

 

“Yes,” I sighed after some time. “I will still take those shifts at the coffee house.”

 

“Thank fuck,” he whispered, smiling. “I was worried our mascot was gonna ditch us, now that he’s a big shot writer.”

Wyatt had finished his fries and was already reaching for mine. I pass them over wordlessly. “Stop teasing Lucy. You know he hates it.”

 

“You know,” Vickie started, when everyone had finished eating. Her gaze had settled in her lap,her bob covering the way her eyebrows furrowed. “What are we really going to do?”

 

“I’m going to work at the coffee shop until I marry rich,” Oliver began, wiping down his face. “Or until I finish paying off the surgery.”

 

“I got the family garage,” Wyatt chipped in. “I can keep helping my old man.”

 

“You have an engineering degree,” Vickie whispered, as if it was taboo to say. And in a way, it was, with how Wyatt’s mood seemed to dim. “You were into space.”

 

“Still am. It’s just, I can’t make that jump yet.”

 

Vickie reached across the table to gently pat at Wyatt’s large hands. He smiled up at her.

 

“I’m going to apply to grad school again. It’s all I can do.”

 

“More school sounds like a hellscape.”

 

“It is, Oli.”

 

“...Gross.”

 

“What will you be doing until then?” Vickie asked, turning to meet my eyes. They’re an impossibly deep brown, and nearly accusing. “Working in the coffee shop with Oli?”

 

“Hey,” Oliver interjected. “Nothing wrong with that.”

 

“There’s not,” Vickie snapped, narrowing her eyes. “But don’t get too comfortable, Lucy. Especially if you want to go to grad school.”

 

“I got it.”

 

“Good boy.”

 

“Good dog.”

 

“Oliver,” Wyatt whined. “What will you be doing, Vickie?”

 

“Unfortunately, my father demands I spend the next year bettering myself.”

 

“For law school?”

 

“For marriage.”

“Oh,” seemed to ring out from everyone’s lips all at once. I caught myself watching as she leaned back into her seat, her confidence hardly dented from the announcement.

 

“He won’t let me get a foothold into politics. Not on my own anyway.”

 

“I’d marry you,” Oliver supplied. “But your dad would find out all the shitty stuff I did in high school and put my ass on blast on CNN.”

 

“I was there, you know? Doing those shitty things with you?”

 

“Yeah, but he’d censor that part.”

 

“Oliver is right,” I cut in. “We’re right back where we started four years ago.”

 

The table was silent. Wyatt sucked on his straw, despite his cup having long since been empty.

 

“We need to do something,” Vickie said, breaking the tension. We all glanced up at her. “We need to make money. We need to move on.”

 

“Travel and discover ourselves? Very zen.”

 

“No, Oli. I mean, we should start a business.”

 

Wyatt’s phone, having sat on the edge of the table, suddenly buzzed and tipped itself off the edge. He barely caught it. “For what?” He asked before answering the call. I could hear his mother at the other end of the line.

 

“I don’t know,” Vickie sighed. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

 

We parted ways after that. Wyatt’s mom called him to visit, his father was celebrating three years of being cancer free. Oliver figured it was early enough for him to return to work and catch a couple hours. I walked Vickie home.

 

I’ve been walking Vickie home since we were in eighth grade.

 

When we reached the edge of her estate, long black gates greeted us, and she turned to face me. Her fur coat no longer looking esteemed, but rather making her look small and unsure inside it.

 

“I hope it works out, you know. Grad school.” Her breath was coming out in small puffs in the cold air. “And Oliver does too, no matter what they say.”

 

“I know,” I supplied.

 

“Until then though,” Vickie said, turning to her gate and sliding her key card. The machine beeps before I hear a lock shift out of place. “Don’t be a stranger.”

 

And that was what started everything. The business, the work.

 

The body between her and I.

RAT

Lucy always had a way of fucking me over.

 

At first, it was in high school when he showed up with a black eye. I remember it clearly, junior year, first period, American History. He was late, which wasn’t odd, and when he arrived, he was missing his backpack, which was odd.

 

“Hey,” I greeted when he eventually found his seat next to me. It had been raining and his black hair clung to his forehead in arguing curls. “What happened?”

 

Lucy’s lips parted to a snarl as he sunk further into the plastic. “Julian.”

 

“Ah,” I had said, because it was an ah moment. Julian was a year older than us and spent his time pursuing Vickie and picking on the three of us. Or tried to anyway. Wyatt had become an expert in scaring him off thanks to the infamous PE volleyball spike. His nose still looked crooked and it’s been a year.

 

He had never outright fought any of us, though. Julian was aiming for Princeton.

 

“He smacked the shit outta you?”

 

Lucy whipped his head around to look at me, splashing water onto the sheets on my desk. I couldn’t find it in myself to care, my focus narrowing to the color of  his eyes, grey and stormy like the weather outside.

 

“I smacked the shit out of him, first of all,” Lucy said, hushed and leaning forward. The teacher spared him a passing glance but made no comment as he continued the  lecture. “Second, he was saying some putrid shit.”

 

“Julian’s always vomiting trash. What’s new?”

 

Lucy gave me a look, something like you just don’t get it, before sighing and leaning back into his seat. “It’s whatever. I didn’t like it this time.”

 

“Be more careful.”

 

Because Lucy had big plans, won those small writing competitions at school, even got published by the local paper. Lucy wanted to go places, even if he never explicitly said it. And I wanted him to. We all did.

 

Lucy hummed in reply, eyes trained forward, but I felt him watching me from his peripherals. It was only when the silence had stretched long enough for me to assume our conversation was over, he spoke again.

 

“Your hair is getting long.”

 

“Yeah, I’m aiming to braid this by the end of the year. It’s going to be fucking fantastic.”

 

“It’s looking good.”

 

“Ah,” I said, forcing myself to stare ahead. Because it was an ah moment.

 

I found out later Lucy had gone at Julian because he’d brought up Wyatt’s dad. Judging from Vickie’s shock, it had happened right in front of her and that was when we all came to the same conclusion.

 

Lucy’s bite was much worse than his bark.

 

We’ve known each other since we were kids. Back when my mom was on top of the world, she would often spend her afternoons having brunch with Agatha Pennington, Vickie’s mother. We would be forced to play with each other. Vickie would show me her endless doll collections and I would bring over the model cars my father figure had bought me. I never knew their make, but Vickie did, and I enjoyed spending my time listening to her spout useless facts.

Wyatt came soon after. I had met him back when we used to take our bikes up and down the block, daring ourselves to leave our neighborhood bit by bit. Wyatt’s dad owned a garage on the east side of town and Wyatt would spend his summers of middle school selling ice cream and lemonade in the front of it.

 

We ran into him twice before Vickie started packing a small bag of change, just for Wyatt. We’d catch a break from cycling and sit on the curb with him. And he would tell us stories about how his dad could lift a truck with his bare hands, how Wyatt hopes one day he’ll be strong enough to do the same.

Wyatt’s optimism never truly faded.

 

Lucy came later. 8th grade in Ms. Thatcher’s class, first period. She had been prepping the class about this new student for a week, much to my boredom. Our town wasn’t large but someone foreign in a classroom shouldn’t have been the highlight of her week.

 

Despite her constant mentioning of Europe and culture, I still wasn’t ready when Lucy was ushered in through the door.

 

His hair had sat on his shoulders in defiant waves, eyes steel as he shifted from heel to toe at the front of the class, waiting for Mrs. Thatcher to conclude her excited introduction.

 

“—And he’s French, came straight from Paris—”

 

“I’m not,” Lucy said, spooking me. His voice was angry, despite barely rising over their teacher’s. The accent was immediately apparent, thick on his tongue and it made his vowels sound funny. “I’m Algerian, not French.”

 

“Ah,” Mrs. Thatcher said, blinking owlishly. Poor woman had no comment to respond to that, unsure of where to go. “Yes, of course.”

 

And just as every cliché written prior, his seat was next to mine.

 

“I like your hair,” I said, because I was thirteen and there was nothing thrilling in my life to talk about.

 

“I’m going to cut it,” he replied, eyes peeking up at me. He paused for a moment. “Do you want it?”

 

“Gross, long hair is gay.”

 

“Okay,” was all Lucy said. He didn’t crack open a notebook all day and yet, I could tell school would never be a problem for him.

 

----

This whole thing started because school became a problem for Lucy.

Grad school was his goal for as long as I had known him. He didn’t talk much, but whenever Vickie talked about her grand scheme of becoming the president, which turned into a senator, which turned into a mayor, which eventually sizzled out into nothing, she would always get us talking about our goals.

 

Wyatt wanted to go into space, said Alien had changed his life and if he couldn’t be the xenomorph, he wanted to die by one’s hands. Dark, but weirdly appropriate coming from him. I often talked about nothing whenever these things came up. I had no goals. There was a time I was temporarily enamored with painting, but oils and canvases were expensive, and my mother had fallen out of wealth and into a bottle.

 

“Really, Oli? No aspirations? No dreams?”

 

“My only dream is to stay by your side, princess.” I called Vickie princess whenever she annoyed me with her pestering. It used to make her  face twist into something sour.

 

“That’s right, who else will braid your hair? I just live for your codependency.”

 

“And you'll also die for it.”

 

“Kinky,” Wyatt said, from behind the screen of his cellphone. He’s gotten into something new this week and demands to be the leader of the scoreboard.

 

“What about you, Lucy? What do you want to do?”

 

Lucy was quiet, sat at the end of the table and often used lunch as a chance to doze off for half an hour. At the sound of Vickie’s voice, he slowly looks up, eyes blinking into focus. “Probably teach.”

 

“Weird,” I had said. He hardly seemed patient enough to handle children.

 

“For college,” he continued, eventually sitting up. I watched the way his lashes fluttered. “Probably literature.”

 

“Probably?” Vickie echoed.

 

“Yeah. Probably.”

 

Which meant yes, Lucy desperately wanted to.

 

“They’re gonna make fun of your name,” I teased, feeling proud of the small smile I got in return.

 

“Good, sometimes we need something to laugh at.”

 

----

Helping Bunny roll the body of Axel Winder into the shallow pit at an unknown construction site was neither something to laugh at nor any of our life goals.

 

“I can’t believe they fucking killed him,” I hiss, staring at Axel’s deadbeat face, which was pretty beaten in, no thanks to Dog.

 

“For once Pig couldn’t deescalate the situation. And he had a gun. And piano wire.”

 

“Piano wire?” I look down as I begin shoveling dirt, covering up the ragged blue suit. “What was he? A mafia movie buff?”

 

“Apparently just the mafia part.”

 

“Ah,” I say. “...So we’re fucked.”

 

Bunny shrugs, lighting another one of his cigarettes. He offers me one, but I shake my head. Those things got your dad, Wyatt I want to say, but instead I keep moving the dirt until the hole is gone.

 

“Pig said they’ll be filling in the ground tomorrow.”

 

“Great, we all know how that works for the killers. So what, we expect this body to turn up in a few months?”

 

“I’d give or take a week.”

 

“Fuck,” I mutter, patting the dirt with the back of my shovel until I’m satisfied. “Fuck.”

 

“It’ll be fine.”

 

“You always say that.”

 

“And it always is.”

 

“We never killed anybody before!”

 

Bunny sighs, his mouth poking  out from under the mask to take a drag. His lips look pale from being out in the cold for so long. “There’s a first for everything.”

 

We walk back to the car and I pop open the trunk, throwing the shovel in it and shutting it as quickly as I can. I hop into the passenger seat and ignore the way the mud on my boots cling to his floors. He needs some serious weather mats, I think. As if  this is going to keep happening and we need to plan better.

 

Bunny waits until we’re on the road, barreling down the highway in a blur before finally ripping his mask off, and he’s no longer Bunny.

 

He’s Wyatt.

 

His fingers clench around the wheel, as tense as his shoulders. It’s a visible shift and has me pulling off my mask as well. Rat stares, unnervingly sharp, back at me before I toss it into the backseat. I do the same for Bunny.

 

“You okay?” I ask after Wyatt cuts into another lane, ignoring the disgruntled honking behind us.

 

He doesn’t say anything for a while, just smokes and smokes until it’s all we’re breathing. His fingers tremble when he finally opens a window to throw it out. The sudden sweep of air has me breathing again. Wyatt shoots me an apologetic look before rolling both windows down.

 

The night feels good for the first time today, the cool air calming the hot tension that spread between us.

 

“No, but I have to be. We all have to be.”

 

I nod.

 

“How’s Lucy?”

 

Wyatt glances at me from the mirror, a knowing smile playing at his lips.

 

“Banged up but okay.”

 

“What a trooper,” I mutter. I’m relieved, even if I don’t express it.

 

Somehow, Wyatt understands anyway.

BUNNY

It started with an idea.

It’s 11 pm and we were all gathered at Cory’s, much to Oliver’s chagrin, as they just got out of work and seemed to be looking forward to sleeping off their shift. It came as a surprise to all of us, all except for Vickie.

Vickie, who showed up late to her own meeting.

 

I didn’t mind, enjoying the rest of Oliver’s milkshake as Lucy and them bickered over something or another. I’d been off that day, a rarity since the garage fell into my ownership after my pops passed. I lived right above it, in a loft with wonderful high ceilings and no AC to speak of. And  Lucy, who seemed to always be lounging in the sun by the open windows.

 

By the time Vickie had shown up, Oliver had fired three paper straws at Lucy and proceeded to duck when a fist leaped back at them from across the table.

 

The bell chimed and I was the only one to turn and greet her.

 

“Hey, Vickie!”

 

Vickie smiled, her cheeks rosy from exposure to the cold. Her hair was a bit frizzy from the wool hat and her gloves were thick, fingers wrapped around two shopping bags.

 

“Sorry, I’m late,” she responded, joining the table and nudging Lucy to scoot further in the booth, which he did with a low mumble of complaint.

 

“It’s fine,” I answered for all of them, pushing Oliver’s milkshake back into their waiting hands. “What was so important you wanted to meet this late?”

 

“Yeah, even Cory went home.”

 

Vickie smiled, removing her scarf. “I have an idea. For our business.”

 

Lucy’s only reaction is a raised eyebrow. He’s taken off his coat, and is dressed in old tank top, the ink on his arms in plain display. He must be freezing, I thought and reminded myself to offer some sweaters to him when we returned home. His choice of clothing might have flown under my radar when we were at the dorms, but no more.

 

“You’re still thinking about that?” Oliver frowned, finishing the milkshake. “I thought we were focusing on how to kill your future husband.”

 

“Oh, it all ties in.”

 

“Anyway,” Vickie continued, trying to calm her excitement. “I was talking to a girlfriend during the annual Charity function.”

 

“Swanky.”

 

“Oliver,” Lucy warned. Oliver reached for my soda and popped the straw in their mouth.

 

“So, we were talking, and she mentioned how this creep from her father’s firm always waits for her to leave and follows her out. Apparently, he goes as far as three blocks from her home before turning back around again.”

 

“That’s gross,” I chimed in.

 

“Men are gross all the time, what’s the point?” Lucy asked.

 

“The point,” Vickie teased, pulling out the contents of the shopping bag. Four masks are stacked on the table, their rubber smell distracting and mildly nauseating mixed with the scents coming from the kitchen. “Is that I told her I had a couple of friends who’d scare him off for good for a grand.”

 

Oliver spat the soda right into Lucy’s awaiting eye.

 

“You’re dead—”

 

“Wait, Lucy, I’m sorry—holy shit, that hurt, asshole!”

 

“So,” I said. “I’m guessing we’re the friends.”

 

“Bingo!” Vickie grinned, picking out a pig mask from the pile and slipping it on. Lucy looked confused as the next one is placed on his head.

 

Oliver leaned in. “I’ll take the rat. I’ve been called that plenty.”

 

“That leaves the rabbit to you, Wyatt,” Vickie said, her voice mildly muffled by the mask.

 

“It’s a bunny,” Lucy muttered.

 

“Okay,” I said. “I guess we’re doing this.”

 

And so we did.

 

----

Finding the guy was easy enough. Just as Vickie said, her girlfriend emerged from the law firm, hair pulled tightly into a bun that framed her cheekbones nicely. I’d find her pretty if I was given any time to genuinely look before Oliver leaned over me to glance out my window.

 

“There he fucking is,” they hiss out, pointing to the figure that exits the building soon after. The man begins following her down the street.

 

“That’s our cue,” I said, turning on the car and keeping the headlights off. We moved in a slow crawl, following the stranger who followed the girl. It was like one of those movies Vickie and Oliver gush over, with the twelve scary men in white suits and a lot of flying bullets. Only we didn’t have bullets, or white suits, we were just scary.

 

He seemed to notice, doing a double take every couple of steps to check if we were still behind him. Oliver and Lucy slipped on their masks, before both popping their respective doors open and sliding out silently, as I continued to drive.

The man heard the car doors close, his shoulders tensing, and by now it seemed he refused to turn around.

 

Just as Vickie said, by the third block, he abruptly stopped. Turning on his heel to walk back.

 

Only I didn’t let him.

 

I pulled the car into the sidewalk in front to him, blocking the path. He eyed it, shock and confusion coloring his face before his gaze landed on me.

 

Or rather, it landed on Bunny.

 

“What the fuck is this?” I heard him ask, panic obvious. He looked as if he was about to turn tail and run but before he was given a chance, he was shoved forward into the car.

 

“Fuck!” The stranger called when his nose collided with the window. He fell to the ground with Rat and Dog  standing over him. “Who the fuck are you guys?”

 

Rat spoke first. “We’re here to tell you to watch your fucking self.”

 

Dog reached into his back pocket and pulled out the switchblade he borrowed from me that morning. It had been my dad’s favorite. Dog crouched before him, flashing the blade.

 

Rat continued. “We’ve seen what you’ve been doing. Following chicks at night? Real classy. What do you think, Dog?”

 

“I think he doesn’t need both ears.”

 

I tried not to laugh. They were supposed to be scary, but they were starting to sound like the beginning of a cold open for a cop drama from the 80’s. It didn’t matter though; the trembling in his voice showed that the man was clearly shaken.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Hear that, Bunny?” Rat called. “He doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”

 

“It’s a shame!” I replied, turning off the engine.

 

That seemed to be the final straw, the man dropping all pretense. “Please, look. I’m sorry, okay? It won’t happen again. I don’t even like her.”

 

Dog stood up, and I didn’t have to look down to know the crack I heard was his foot connecting with a skull.

 

The man whimpered but Rat helped him up to unsteady legs. “Come on now, don’t cry. It’s gross. Get the fuck outta here. If we catch you again, you’re…”

Rat waited patiently, words trailing off, and it clicks to the stranger.

 

“I’m...dead?”

 

“...Good boy.”

 

Dog backed away and the man immediately booked it, running down the open street and turning into an alleyway. Rat ripped off his mask the moment he’s out of sight.

 

“That,” Oliver began. “Was fucking awesome.”

 

Dog bent down and grabbed something from the sidewalk. “He left his wallet.”

 

I laughed, turning the engine on and waiting for them to climb in. “That’s dope. Dinner’s on him. Cory’s?”

 

“Fuck yes.”

 

And there it was. Our first successful gig in a long string of bad decisions.

Animal Heads, Chapter One.

Illustrated by Nayza M.

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